The Abington Board of Commissioners approved the measure April 12 in a 10-5 vote — the same margin that last year rejected the bill.
The bill was first proposed by out commissioner Lori Schreiber in January 2011.
“It’s been a long road but I am so excited that we got here,” Schreiber said this week.
The ordinance bans discrimination based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in employment, housing and public accommodations, closing a gap in existence because of the lack of an LGBT provision in the statewide nondiscrimination law.
The bill was amended to limit the authority of the human-relations commission that was established within the legislation, which Schreiber surmised may have changed some minds.
“A couple of us worked together in a bipartisan way to come up with compromises,” she said. “The new version was based on one passed in a couple other municipalities, like Jenkintown and Springfield townships, which doesn’t include an adjudication portion. So there’s some belief that it won’t lead to as much potential for this to cost the township money. I think some people saw this as being more fiscally sound and that changed their votes.”
The legislation stipulates that mediation between parties be handled by an outside agency and that the parties themselves be responsible for any financial obligations. If the mediation is not successful, the commission would then instruct the parties to take the case to the Court of Common Pleas or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, if applicable.
While Schreiber said there was a “very small but vocal” band of opponents who spoke out at meetings about the bill, feedback from residents was largely positive. She estimated that about 90 percent of the standing-room-only crowd at last week’s meeting was there to support the ordinance.
Since the Abington bill was introduced, surrounding municipalities like Jenkintown and Cheltenham have adopted their own ordinances.
“My hope is that next will be Montgomery County passing something like this,” Schreiber said. “That way we won’t be going municipality by municipality but on the county level.”
Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, said his agency is working with a number of Pennsylvania locales on similar ordinances, and commended the Abington supporters for persevering.
“The process of passing an ordinance in Abington has been long and detailed, and we really salute the local activists who led the way and helped to keep the process moving forward and on track,” he said. “For our part, we worked exceptionally hard to be a good partner to all of them. Passage of the Abington ordinance gives us courage to continue our work with over a dozen other communities throughout the state.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.